Rat Terrier Overview

Dog Breed:
Rat Terrier
Breed Group:
Intelligent, friendly, curious, feisty, and energetic.
10-18 inches
10-25 pounds
Life Span:
12-18 years
Coat Colors:
Pied patterned, so that's large patches of one or more colors in combination with white.
Area of Origin:
Best For:
Active Home/Secure Garden/Owners with a keen interest in training
Adult Food:
Best Dog Food for Rat Terriers
Puppy Food:
Best Puppy Food for Rat Terriers
Mixed Breeds:
Rat-Cha & Ratchi

Rat Terrier Characteristics

Good for First-Time Owners
Good with Children
Easy to Train
Exercise Requirements
Ease of Grooming
Amount of Shedding
Amount of Drooling
Tendency to Bark

About The Rat Terrier

  • Tenacious terrier

  • Training and socialization essential

  • Thrives with an active lifestyle


When the breed standard mentions they are not be faulted for honorable scars’ and ‘broken or missing teeth,’ then you know that you have a tenacious hunter on your hands. This is a dog with a strong work heritage which hasn’t really subsided; they’re all terrier!

Now, with training and socialization, they can be loyal and loveable members of your family. But you will need to be relaxed enough to cope and perhaps admire their tenacity as they dig yet another hole in your lawn or manage to escape the inescapable fencing.

The ideal family will be able to provide them with outlets for their energy and brains through training and dog sports. And then be happy for them to cuddle under the duvet with them at night, they hate the cold!

Rat Terrier Breed History

  • Developed in the US

  • Bred for hunting

  • Different types developed for different jobs

An American breed, the Rat Terrier was developed to catch prey and hunt pests on farms. It’s thought that several breeds were used to create the breed, including the Fox and Bull Terriers, along with the Manchester and Old English White Terrier.

During the early 1900s, breeders worked to develop dogs for specific tasks. In the Midwest, there was a need for dogs who were fast enough to control the growing jackrabbit population. So, the breeders crossed the Rat Terriers with Whippets and Italian Greyhounds.

Meanwhile, in Central and Southwest America, they needed dogs who would work as a pack and who had excellent hunting skills. This time the Rat Terriers were crossed with Beagles. Then in the early 1920s, breeders who had Toy Fox Terriers too large for their breeding program bred them to Rat Terriers. The resulting dog was the miniature Rat Terrier.

Come the 1940s and 1950s, farmers began to control pests using poisons, and so Rat Terriers, who were now out of a job, started to decline in numbers. Thankfully a small group of passionate breeders continued to develop the breed until they regained popularity in the 1970s.

There were also two other varieties of the Rat Terrier being developed during this time. Milton Decker, a hunter, felt that his terrier possessed fantastic qualities that he wanted to maintain within a breeding program. So, he produced a larger Rat Terrier who could be used for hunting wild pig deer and even cougars and bears. This variety became known as the Decker Rat Terrier and soon gained a reputation for being a feisty but loyal companion.

The second variety was the hairless Rat Terrier, with the first pup being born in 1972. Now known as the American Hairless Terrier, they come in two sizes, miniature and standard.

Rat Terrier Size & Weight

  • Several different varieties with different size categories

  • Height can be between 10-19 inches across the types

  • Weight varies from 5-40 pounds


The Rat Terrier has a standard, miniature, and toy version. The standard dogs measure between 13 -18 inches and weigh 18-25 pounds.

The miniatures stand between 10-13 inches and should weigh 10-18 pounds. Then the Toys are less than 12 inches and weigh 5-10 pounds.

The Decker Rat Terrier is the largest variety, and they measure 16-19 inches for a male and 16-17 inches for a female. Their weight should be between 22 to 40 pounds.

So, as you can see, there’s quite a bit of variety in weight and height depending on the type. Do remember to check with breeders which size they breed so that you have an idea as to how large your pup will become.

Rat Terrier Personality & Temperament

  • Loyal and devoted

  • Reserved with strangers

  • Hates cold weather


The Rat Terrier is a loyal and intelligent breed. They love to learn and make fantastic partners for anyone looking for a sporting dog. However, socialization is essential for this breed. They are already known for their coolness in greeting strangers, so they need to meet lots of friendly people when young to ensure this trait doesn’t tip over into aggression.

Many owners talk about their Rat Terrier’s huge desire to please and their love of following them around the house. So, this does then mean that when they’re young, you’ll need to set up opportunities for them to learn to be relaxed when left alone in the home.

Most Rat Terriers are wonderfully patient with children, though those who are not used to children should always be carefully supervised. As for getting on with other dogs, well, much of that is dependent on their experiences as pups. Getting out to meet other friendly dogs will help them to love a good run and game with others as they get older.

Do be aware, though, that while a Rat Terrier may not start a fight, they’re also unlikely to back down when threatened, no matter the size of their opponent!

While they will love a garden to run in, this is a breed that can adapt to apartment living as long as their exercise needs are met. They do, however, hate cold weather with a passion, finding it much easier to adapt to warmer climates.

Rat Terrier Health & Grooming

  • Overall a healthy breed

  • Some health testing required before dogs are bred from

  • Minimal grooming requirements


This is generally a very healthy breed, and responsible breeders will screen their dogs for the following conditions before breeding from them.

  • Hip dysplasia – A condition which causes joint issues leading to pain and lameness
  • Patellar luxation (loose kneecaps) – Causing the knee cap to move in and out of position also resulting in pain and lameness
  • Legg-Calve-Perthes disease – Causes the ‘ball’ in the ball-and-socket joint of the hip to break down.
  • Eye disorders – Certified that the eyes are free of all conditions, which may affect the dog’s vision.

Grooming is super quick with this breed.  A quick brush once a week will generally be enough to shift dead hair and any dirt that might be lingering in the coat. During shedding season, a quick brush once a day will keep too much hair from gathering in your home.

Rat Terrier Training

  • Easy to train

  • Love to dig

  • High prey drive


The Rat Terrier is well known for their ease of training and their love of learning new things. Despite their terrier nature, they are still quite a sensitive breed, and so will do best with gentle handing. Early enrolment into puppy classes is highly recommended, not only to start their education but also for them to learn polite behavior around other dogs.

Agility is an excellent option for more advanced training. It provides both mental and physical stimulation, which is a perfect combination to tire out your Rat Terrier.

Digging is an instinctual behavior for many terriers, and this variety is no exception. That means that fences are merely a challenge to dig under for most Rat Terriers. Careful planning will be needed to ensure that your garden is safe for them to run free within.

Even the best trained Rat Terrier is going to have times when their high level of prey drive kicks in, no matter how reliable they usually are at coming back when called. This means that owners have to be especially careful of where and when they allow them to be off-leash.

Although the Rat Terrier doesn’t have a reputation for barking, they can make a very shrill yapping noise when excited. Training can help in teaching calmness until they can run free and get all the yapping out of their systems.

Rat Terrier Exercise Requirements

  • Easy to train

  • Love to dig

  • High prey drive


This is a high energy breed. For them to be relaxed in the home, they need a combination of walking and free running in a securely fenced area, every day. At least an hour a day needs to be scheduled to ensure their needs are being met.

If you’re looking for a playful dog, then you’re in the right place. The Rat Terrier will keep on going as long as you can, and probably a bit more! Add in some training to the games to ensure that they don’t become over-excited.

Rat Terrier Diet & Feeding

  • Speak to the vet or pet nutritionist for personalized advice

  • Select the food to their size, age and exercise level

  • Look for food suitable for small dogs to prevent obesity


For personalized advice for your Rat Terrier, chat with your veterinarian or a pet nutritionist.

Generally, most dogs start on puppy food and then progress to adult formulations when they’re around six months of age. Do select the right food for the age, size, and activity levels of your dog.

Small dogs can quickly put on weight, so aim for good quality food, which can provide all the required nutrients within a small serving.

You may also be interested in:

Rat Terrier Rescue Groups

The Rat Terrier is not a breed for everyone, and sadly, that and life events such as divorce can mean that some find themselves in need of a new home. For further information on offering a rescue Rat Terrier a new home contact one of the following breed rescue organizations –

Ratbone Rescues – http://www.ratbonerescues.com/

New Rattitude – https://newrattitude.org/

Rat Terrier ResQ – http://www.ratterrierresq.com/